EXPERTS, NOT BUREAUCRATS, MUST LEAD THE BATTLE
As per predictions by the experts, India is in for peak in the COVID-19. The rate of increase of new cases has already started showing up. We stand at 4th position in the world as far as number of cases goes. True, that we have a large population and in that context number is not very high, but the WHO has warned that we may be in for worse. After lifting of lock down, complacency has started developing in the society. There is crowding at places and carelessness has developed about preventive measures like wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.
This is not the time to find faults and criticize any one, but serious scientific introspection to our approach in dealing with the Pandemic is needed so as to have better planning for future.
Any health related issue has to be dealt with scientific approach. When it comes to Pandemics the opinion of the Epidemiologists and Virologists should be considered primary. Unfortunately this did not happen in our country. We learnt about the COVID-19 in China in December 2019. In our country first case was detected on 30th January 2020 when the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency. This in itself was sufficient to understand that every government in the world should take it seriously. Many countries did. That is how Vietnam which is immediate neighbour of China could limit the spread. In our country the Kerala state took effective measures with immediate effect.
Further the Indian government was too late in recognizing the seriousness of the situation. It would have been better to postpone the visit of US President Donald Trump on 24-25 February. Even though testing of those coming from other countries had started by that time but it was not strict as it should have been. However we do not have any data about the results of tests done on 4000 persons who accompanied Mr. Trump. More over with such a dignitary coming diversion of attention of the government machinery was natural.
Unfortunately communal violence was engineered in North East Delhi during that time. Then there were other issues like toppling the government in Madhya Pradesh. This shows lack of seriousness of the situation untill 3rd week of March.
Perplexed with the situation a 21 days lockdown was imposed suddenly by the Prime Minister on 24th March. During his address to the nation he had emphatically stated that we had won the Mahabharata in 18 days and we will win the war over Corona in 21 days. This might have given confidence to the people, but this rhetoric had no scientific basis. No scientifically thinking person would agree that Corona could be managed by banging Thaalies or Taalis or Shankhs. Those propagating use of Cow Urine and Cow Dung were not refrained from spreading such absurd ideas.
In science there is no scope of patting one’s own back. But the Joint Secretary Luv Aggarwal kept on repeating that the curve of COVID is flat in our country and we are much ahead in the fight. Though initially ICMR was a party to the press briefings, they were not to be seen from 21st April onwards. Since then only the bureaucrats have been briefing on health issues, no virologist or epidemiologist. However even these press briefings have become very less now. Who took such decisions is yet to be known. It was better if a task force of Public Health Experts should have been entrusted the job of giving technical guide lines to the government. Their opinion should have been made open for discussion among academicians in the field. The transparency in science always helps in its growth and reaches better conclusions and achieve better outcome.
The scientists not only warned us about the course of the disease but also guided about the steps for prevention. These need to be percolated down. In a country like ours, with large number of people in rural areas, who have poor access to communication, it was important to impart extensive education to the people through person to person mass communication. In the direct conversation the educator can answer several queries of the people. We have nearly 10 lakh ASHA workers who could have been given training for this.
With a population of about 138 crore we have one ASHA worker nearly for 1400 people or about 300 families. It was not a difficult task to educate the people about the COVID. While on one side this would have allayed the fear among the people on the other hand it would have given them sufficient knowledge about prevention of the disease. About 28 lakh Aanganwadi workers too could have been trained on this. Instead of lock down in the first place on 24th March if education had been the main criteria, it would have reduced the danger of infection, saved the economy, prevented crores from hunger and the agony of migration on foot. Most of the countries have lifted lockdown when the disease showed downward trend.
But government has been patting its own back on that we are much ahead of rest of the world in dealing with COVID – 19. Anyhow through an affidavit in the Apex Court it has now admitted that the COVID cases are on the rise. It is always good to admit the truth, learn from past experience and move ahead.